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Reviving Indigenous Wisdom: Exploring the Intersection of Paganism, Shamanism, and Decolonisation

For me, paganism in the British Isles has primarily revolved around music, ceremonies at stone circles, solstice singing, and practices like Samhain. It also encompasses eco-awareness and active defense of the Earth. I've also wondered how these practices differ from Norse, Germanic, or other cultural traditions.

Recently, as I got into Andean spirituality or cosmovision especially since the time of the chilean uprising in 2018 and when I witnessed indigenous delegates attending COP26 in Glasgow, I discovered connections between Mapuche ceremonies from the southernmost ends of the Americas and those performed by Scottish groups with ties to indigenous or at least traditional spirituality. Through these ceremonies, people expressed a sense of rekindling a lost link. I believe this spirit stems from a desire to heal a wound or reclaim something that was taken away. In Chile and other parts of the world, we refer to this process as decolonising. Perhaps it arises from the belief that modern capitalist nation-states are not actively colonising the peoples and cultures within them.

In this context, I was reminded of comments made about shamanism and the connection between Native American and European traditions.  They reminded me of the first podcast of the British Druid Order, in which the founder shares his experience of finding his spirit animal in a sweat lodge. This encounter led to an intentional blending of shamanism and paganism that had been absent in previous forms of neo-Druidry. 

From my perspective, I consider Aymara cosmovision to be pagan because we were literally persecuted by Christians. Whole villages were set ablaze when our continued worship of huacas and engagement in our ceremonies were discovered. Instead, the colonizers expected us to practice syncretic forms of Andean Christianity. These historical events are documented in journals from the time of conquest and the Viceroyalty of Peru.

Another common aspect I see is the focus on the spiritual elements that connect us to the Earth, life, and ecology. For the Aymaras, these elements include our ancestors, the sun, moon, earth, rivers, and more. Through interactions with Aymara decolonising scientists, activists, and ecologists from the Chilean precordillera and Atacama Desert, I have come to understand that we make offerings to and exchange with these entities and aspects because we should strive to defend and diversify our world, without considering ourselves superior or separate.

My great-grandmother was a yatiri, a traditional healer who possessed knowledge of curing various illnesses and the medicinal properties of plants. She also practiced the ritual of offering and receiving, known as Ayni. Indigenous Aymara medicine, like other forms of traditional medicine, has faced significant discrimination. However, resources like the CC-licensed "Aymara Cosmovision for Health Professionals" aim to challenge the discriminatory views surrounding traditional indigenous health practices and offer ways to cohabit that space. 

Personally, I find it gratifying when individuals choose to adapt, practice, or learn about Andean or Aymara cosmovision, as long as it leads to a deeper understanding of their own spiritual path.  I don't speak for all Aymaras or even just the decolonising ones. I can only share my perspective as someone fortunate enough to feel a close connection to both spiritualities and recognize how each can inspire us to actively defend the Earth against exploitation and extraction. Similarly, in Abya Yala, we can learn from Europeans and/or colonised subjects, as Aymara sculptor Victor Zapana suggests. Zapana's idea is captured in the book "Un Mundo Chixi es Posible". 

Zapana's views remind me of the concept of death in relation to various Aymara deities and symbols—the snake that poisons and constricts, leaving one between life and death; the puma that pounces and takes life while one is still alive; and the condor that claims the dead. We exist in between and around these states, never fully belonging to just one. Perhaps the same can be said about the labels we assign to different earth-based faiths and spiritualities.


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